Children of the Chinar Season 4: Ghazal Qadri, rediscovering Kashmiri art
Ghazal Qadri is a Kashmiri illustrator. She draws inspiration from her lived experiences in a conflict region for her artwork. Her work has been published in various publications and has been recognized for its unique style and storytelling. In 2019, Ghazal Qadri illustrated the children's picture book, Okus Bokus, authored by Oniza Drabu. The book is the first of its kind, aimed at promoting the Kashmiri culture and language. Ghazal Qadri has also created a calendar that showcases the six main seasons of Kashmir. The calendar follows the timeline associated with each season and features illustrations that depict Kashmiri household traditions and relatable life activities. She has also designed emojis for a mobile application, which became popular among the Kashmir population; millions of users have now used her emojis. She spoke to Akasha Usmani.
Akasha Usmani (AU): What was your inspiration that led you to be an illustrator? How has life in Kashmir inspired your work? Ghazal Qadri (GQ): My name is Ghazal Qadri. I am a Kashmiri-born Illustrator. I was born and brought up in Kashmir but I later decided to move out for high school and my higher studies. Currently, I am a Freelance Illustrator, represented by Sara Crowe of the New York-based literary agency, Pippin Properties Inc based out of Georgia, Atlanta. I graduated with an MA in Illustration, from the prestigious Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore USA in the year 2020. During my school days, I was a backbencher, mischievous and naughty to the boot. A kind of chatterbox. I would be caught drawing caricatures of my teachers in the class while they were busy delivering lectures. As a result most of the time I found myself standing outside the class. Born to rebel, a second-born, and a contrarian, my doodling grew into a passion and I decided to take a departure from the much-cliched path of becoming a doctor or an engineer. I went to a boarding school after class 10. It was kind of a defining moment for me. I got an opportunity to work as the illustrator of the school magazine and represented the school in several cartoon competitions. While all this happened my friends and family always encouraged me to pursue my passion. During my preteens, my father would buy me a variety of picture books to learn English words. Inspired by a whole lot of characters and storylines in the picture book I never knew when I started observing people and things that happened around me. All that lured me did not take much time to find translated into comics. I am a Kashmiri and have lived most of my life in Kashmir. I am very close to my parents and always connected, be it via audio or video call. I always curiously listen to their stories and then doodle. Staying away for almost 10 long years from Kashmir would take its toll. My yearning for my native place, its climate, music and songs, personalities, personal associations (present and past), possibilities and events (especially ‘the good old days’/‘the warm childhood’), the innocence of childhood, and sweetness of youth is simply overpowering. The recollections of important events, people I care about, and places where I wasted my time all trigger me to draw stories that readers somehow relate to their own nostalgic experiences.
Qadri's artwork on Kashmiris enjoying the traditional drink of kehwah.
AU: How do you contribute to non-profit communities working in Kashmir through your illustration? GQ: I have been working with numerous Kashmiri organizations that promote a cause. I was working with the Kashmir Education Initiative as an Illustrator for one year, where I designed graphics for their scholar book and I also managed the social media for marketing their initiatives with my skills. Besides that, for the past few years, I have been actively involved in collaborative and self-initiated projects, that include, the mobile application in which I designed emojis. The latter turned out to be a big hit in the Kashmiri diaspora all over the world, with about 0.15 million users. Given the popularity of these emojis, I made use of them in a number of products that included calendars, stickers, badges, greeting cards, cups, and gift stationery.
I worked with Funkaar International on a picture book recently that aims at promoting the Kashmiri language and culture. It is set to come out this year. Two years back I designed a self-initiated calendar that also supports promoting the art and culture of Kashmir. AU: Can you talk about your calendar? What inspired you?
GQ: The calendar which is about the 6 main seasons of Kashmir – vande, shishur, sonth, grishum, vahrat and harud - follows the timeline associated with each of these seasons. The calendar characterized each season by way of illustrations depicting Kashmiri household traditions and relatable life activities. The calendar strictly followed the timeline associated with each of the six seasons. It was an attempt to characterize each season by way of illustrations depicting the Kashmiri household traditions and relatable life activities. It was fun to discover a whole lot of relatable scenes with awe, every time you flip a page of the calendar. I received an overwhelming response from my audience and it made me happy. I still see the calendar hanging in some houses, even though the calendar is not valid anymore. Many of the customers even framed the artworks while discarding the dates under it to relish the moments that it contains. It is really pleasing to know that people can relate to my work.
AU: Is there a specific goal that you want to achieve through your illustration? What is your vision for the future? GQ: My plan is to work more in the children's picture book section. Picture books and Graphic novels are excellent ways for kids to learn about their culture visually and then remember for a long time. Visuals add a component to the storytelling that the text does not. I am currently working on a couple of book projects with well-known publishers. This way I am trying to understand the publishing industry and getting tremendous exposure as an illustrator. I look forward to writing my own stories and illustrating them. I recently published my first children’s picture book with Pratham Books.
I am also about to finish a comic series about Kashmiri Students and their need for use of mobile phones and the internet with United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). It was a wonderful initiative and a pleasure to work with them.